Friday, June 28, 2013

Pollination Station

This video is brought to you by the Society for the Promotion of Short Work Days on Fridays (me!).  Finally, after what seems like weeks of non-stop life, I find myself off work early and with some of those rare hours that haven't been planned for.  So, what do I do?  Clean house, or catch up with weeds in the garden like I should?  Nope.  I watch the chickens eat, lay in the sun, and video bugs with my phone.  I'm sure it was more fun to make the bug videos than it will be to watch them, but just in case I want to take a break some day, when I don't have access to my garden for lolly gagging, or it's the dead of winter, I'm posting my video, which is untitled at this time.  I accidentally filmed my feet, and I included the "feet segment" in the video to add a dash of reality and artistic flair.  Really, I just thought it was sort of funny and weird. 
Summary: Listen to the buzz of insects, the chirp of birds, the hum of distant lawnmowers, and the soft melody of wind chimes, while watching flitting insects, the sway of flowers, and the sunlight filtering through the flower petals as Rain stalks her yard hunting insects on a sunny summer Friday afternoon in June.  For the optimum viewing experience, choose a time to view the video when you have over four minutes of quiet time, dim the lights, and compliment the video by drinking ginger ale, or other natural remedy for motion sickness, which may be induced by swaying branches, creepy bugs, brief segments with loud wind in the microphone, and shaky amateur photography.  Enjoy!

Only one worm was harmed in the making of this video. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Goofy Mowing Costume, House Progress, and Unexpected Blooms

It's a good thing no one can see me when I mow the grass at the farm.  I had a big laugh when I got a good look at my reflection while wearing Brandon's Guatamalun straw hat, faded red bandanna (it's pink, really, but don't let him hear me say that), and school bus yellow earphones, which have an antenna sticking out the back so I can listen to the radio.  These headphones are really wonderful since I can sing along with the radio and pretend no one can hear me, since I can't hear myself.  I think Brandon looks kind of dashing in his mowing get-up, so I don't know how I look so goofy wearing the same thing. 

"Bad Brandon!  Look at the mess you made!"  Cleaning up the debris that Brandon generated tearing out the warpy drywall and old plaster and lath ceiling from the living room was a big job, but it's good for my shoveling muscles.  We debated leaving the ceiling in the living room since it was one of the least damaged in the house, but I'm very glad we decided to take it down since Brandon barely touched the first piece with his crow bar and a giant slab fell to the floor.  I would rather clean this mess up now than do it after we've moved in and all our furniture is under the rubble.  And believe it or not, I can see a light at the end of the demolition tunnel.  We aren't there yet, but when I look around I don't see how we can rip much more out of this house without exposing ourselves to the outside.  So surely we will get to start putting some things back very soon.  Surely. 

The photos above are some shots of the staircase, in it's unfinished state.  We got kind of fancy at the downstairs end, and made a turn.  Brandon always wanted a spiral staircase, but this is as close as he's going to get.  I'm anxious to see how they really work.  The stairs wrap around what will some day be, if we follow our current half formed plans, a bigger column with some built in cabinets or shelves.  Right now it's just a four by four post, and for some reason I have doubts that it will be much more than that for a long while. 

Since I took this picture, the downstairs bedroom floor has been mostly finished.  We were able to salvage almost all the original floor boards, but luckily some of them were bad, so Brandon got to play with his planer and router to create some groved floor boards to fill in the holes.  I plan to paint the floors to finish them, so the different types of wood shouldn't be a problem.  The room is so small that I'm pretty sure the floor won't be visible once we get a bed in it anyway, so it's not going to matter what it looks like. 

I discovered some unexpected treasures outside too.  A bird built a nest in some pink insulation that was stacked in the barn.  If I didn't know this was itchy fiberglass, I would think this bird made the coziest looking nest I've ever seen, nestled in billows of pink fluff. 

We have several yucca plants, which I was suprised to find get pretty blooms too.  I've only ever noticed the spiky leaves, but never got a close look at the the tall flower spikes.  These flowers are nearly three feet tall, and lovely against the sunset. 

Suprise roses and elderberry shrubs!

Some rose bushes, which I assumed were wild rose, which has tiny white flowers, have turned out to be roses with large frilly pink blooms.  These rose bushes are growing tangled with wild blackberries and some small pawpaw trees, but they are still very impressive.  With a little attention, this wall of pink roses could really shine. 

The elderberries are scattered in several locations around the property, and right now have giant heads of delicate white flowers.  Not only are these pretty, but this means I can make my own elderberry wine!  I love plants that are beautiful and alcoholic. 

The bushy apple tree on the east side of the house is indeed and apple tree.  It has hundreds of small green apples on it now.  I'm sure it could use some pruninng, but until I get a chance to figure out how, I'm just going to enjoy any fruit I can get from it.  I have visions of apple pies when I stand under it. 

Have I mentioned the wonderful sunsets

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Rainbows and Sunsets

While Brandon was busy hauling garbage cans full of rubble from the house destruction renovation to the dumpster, I was busy running around outside taking photos of the rainbow that appeared in the sky after a light rain.  The rainbow was one of those perfect ones that arch across the entire sky from one side to the other, and I could see the entire thing since our house sits on a small hill and there are no obstructions to our view of the sky.  I like the picture above because I accidentally captured Brandon in the shot while he's still wearing his dust mask and safety glasses on his way back in after emptying his can of debris. 

I walked all over our fields trying to get the perfect photos, and the one above is the closest I got to capturing the whole thing in one shot.  I'm sure my phone camera does some fancy panorama photos that could have captured the very ends of the rainbow too.  The trees in the photo are in our east field, and mark the boundary of our property.

In this picture from the back of our house you can see the faint second rainbow above the bright one on the bottom.  And I'm pretty sure that we are going to spend at least two pots of gold making this old house livable, so it seems appropriate that the house be at the end of the rainbows.   

A friend and coworker who lives in the same area was glancing through my phone pictures and recognized the rainbow.  He said that he bet that every person who lived in the county had pictures on their phone of the same rainbow, because he and his neighbors were out looking at it too.  It was beautiful, and lasted for long enough that I could really enjoy it. 

I've never lived in a place where I could see such spectacular sunsets.  I guess it's the lack of neighbors, or any sort of buildings, other than some silos and barn, in our view, and because the house is on a small hill instead of in a valley, like where I grew up.  I've seen wonderful sunsets when visiting the ocean, or on other travels, but to think that we could see sunsets like these just out our door amazes me.  

The sunsets are spectacular, and combined with the lightning bugs flashing over the fields, it's better than TV.  I predict that when we finally make the move to the farm we will spend many evenings admiring the setting sun instead of watching old televisions shows on Netflix.  No, I really shouldn't say instead of, I should say that I predict we will watch the setting sun before we watch TV! I want it all. 

I'm so glad the realtors didn't put photos of the sunsets in their adds or this place would have been snatched up before we found it, despite the condition of the house. 

On days work on the house, we find ourselves staying late, just so we can watch the sun go down.  It always seems like the perfect way to end a day.   
(Brandon just looked over my shoulder and jokingly asked me if I had any pictures of butterflies to add to this post!  I so wish I did.  I guess I'll just have to refer to the photos of the kittens for that last dose of girlie-ness.  Ha! )

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Hive Robbers Have Honey!


Finally, after tending the bees for two summers, we harvested some honey!  It was so much fun, and so much more tasty than other food harvests.  Not that a mess of kale or garlic doesn't give me thrills too, but getting jars of sweet honey was exciting in a much sweeter way. 

I imagine that my prehistoric ancestors had a big day when they found a hive and could score so many calories, so robbing our hive must touch on some nerve in my crocodile brain that really enjoys stealing honey from bees.  Or maybe I just have an excitable sweet tooth. 


One of the best parts of working with bees is the cool equipment.  The smoker is a bit challenging to figure out how to light, but once Jamie gets it going I feel like a real bee keeper.  I'm not convinced the smoker does anything other than create an authentic ambiance, but at least it gives me an illusion of defence when opening a box filled with sixty thousand stingers.

We got the bees two years ago, and normally by this time of the year, we have been more involved with the bees; meaning we opened the hive more frequently and tried to inspect for disease, tried to find the queen, and do all the things that I read that we were supposed to do.  Since I really don't know what I'm looking for, haven't been able to find the queen anyway, and have been so busy with other projects this summer, the bees have been unmolested and I think they appreciate it.  There was more honey in the hive this time than ever before.

Our goal was to see how they were doing and to add another box full of frames if they looked like they needed some room to expand.  Boy, am I glad we didn't wait any longer!  Every frame was loaded up with honey and almost all of it had wax caps, which means the bees had deemed it finished and ready for eating.

Last summer we noticed that black ants were living in the top of the hive.  The ants didn't seem to be near the bees and I was beginning to think that the ants weren't honey eaters but were just using the hive as a rain proof nest.

The ants are still there, but when we accidentally smeared some honey on the outside of the hive they gobbled it up, so they do eat it if they can, but hopefully the bees defend the honey in the main body of the hive.  I'm not sure what to do about the ants.  They seem to bother us more than they bother the bees.  They crawl up our arms when we are working on the hive, and get stuck in the honey.  They bite too, so you can't just let them crawl on you with out brushing them off.  I'm always nervous I'm going to drop a frame loaded down with bees anyway, so the last thing I need to be doing is brushing off ants while I'm trying to concentrate. 

Since there were so many honey laden frames we robbed the hive of one from near the edge of the box and replaced it with a blank.  

Jamie and I tried to gently brush the bees from the frame.  Our bees are very calm and gentle, and I was the only one of us that suffered a sting because I didn't realize one had landed on my shirt and I unintentionally squished her with my arm.  When we first got the bees I would completely cover my body, hands, and face.  The full body gear does make me feel safe, but it is also extremely hot and restricts mobility, especially the gloves.  So, over time, I stopped wearing the protective gear, except the hat and veil, because I thought that unless I was stung on the face or throat, any other sting wouldn't be of great concern.  But this sting on the arm swelled so much that I looked like I had Popeye's forearm.  It was red and hot for several days which doesn't seem to be a normal response to a single sting, at least based on other peoples reactions to stings and to my past reactions.  I may at least wear long sleeves from now on, just so I don't have to go around for a week with horrid red swellings.  We do know to tuck our shirts in, since dad got a sting on his belly when one climbed up his shirt. 

We sort of made up our honey harvest technique as we went, and we don't have any of the nifty gear that beekeepers use.  We started with cutting the wax and honey from the frame and collecting it in a pot.  It would be nice to be able to return the wax cells, minus honey, to the bees so thy don't have to spend any energy rebuilding the wax, and can get straight to work filling the cells with honey.  But, since we don't have one of those fancy frame spinners we just cut it all off, wax and all. 

I wanted lots of pictures of our first honey gathering, but it would have been nice, for once, to have showered and not be wearing yesterdays work clothes before I was photographed.  Leigh listed all the blog posts that I have made where we were obviously focused on the task at hand and obviously not focused on clean clothes or, in my case, had even thought of a hair brush.  She said "we blog nasty", and we do!  I'm going to tell myself that it adds "grit" to the story, not that I just always look gritty. 

Leigh squished the wax over a strainer basket with her hands to collect the honey in a crock.  This is not a job where anyone minds getting their hands dirty.  By the time we were finished everyone had "tasted" the honey so many times we wished there was such a thing as a salty snack tree that was ready to harvest too.  The strainer got out any squished bees or squirmy ants.  We laughed about how this was truly live food since it was still wiggling.

Jamie pointed out that the swirls in the honey looked like images of the galaxy.  I feel like we captured the universe in a pot of bee spit.


As the honey was poured through a filter into the jars we must have taken a dozen photos because it was just so beautiful.  The photos don't do it justice.  It was sparkly like liquid gold.

The honey tastes very good, and is super sweet. It amazes me that there is a giant box of deliciousness in the yard and nothing has eaten it yet.  Even with our less that efficient harvesting technique, we got over six and a half cups of honey from a single frame, and there are nineteen frames left just for the bees to use.

Mom put the ball of wax in a jar, and put the jar in some boiling water to get it to melt.  We have plans to use the wax to make something, but don't know what.

We put all the honey coated dishes out by the hive so the bees could clean it up.  I hope we didn't just feed the ants.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Natural (Light) Eggs

The eggs from moms chickens are lovely earth tones.  Tan, brown, chocolate, olive, green, speckles, and even blue.  I'm so impressed that chickens can make eggs in such natural colors.

Of course, mom's chickens live natural lives, and have the option to lay their eggs in a natural environment, like the recycling bin!  This silly hen seems to be confused about where the nest box is. 

Maybe it's more accurate to say these are natural light eggs.

Not only are the eggs naturally different colors, but they are a variety of sizes too.  This brown one is a whopper!  The tiny eggs are the ultimate solution to splitting a recipe that calls for one egg.  Just use a half sized egg!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Alien Abduction

I always imagine that the bats that are caught in my net go back to their roost to tell the other bats of their abduction.  They probably tell their buddies that they were just flying along, on their normal foraging route, when they were trapped in an invisible force field!  After struggling in vain against the force field, a blinding bright light approached from the distance.  They were taken up in a floating capsule, then measured, prodded, and violated by unseen beings with flashing lights and cold metal instruments before being released unharmed, but traumatized.  "Guys, seriously, do not fly down Stinking Creek tonight!"

The imagined force field is the net, called a mist net, because it is nearly transparent and made of extremely fine threads, similar to a hair net that the lunch lady wears.  I wear a very bright headlamp to keep my hands free, so I have a bright beam of light in the center of my forehead.  I see the poor bats blinking their eyes in the bright light, and most just close their eyes against the glare.  Working with other folks who are wearing headlamps makes me realize just how bright the light is.  When my netting partner looks at me in the face all I can see is the bright glow, so I know the bats can't see my face or know what has them.  After I untangle the bats from the net/force field, I put them in a paper bag to carry them back to our work station, like the big brown bat and the red bat in the photos above.  This must be strange experience for a bat, to be in a crinkly dark paper capsule that is floating through the air.   I weigh them while they are in the bag, take some measurements to verify which species, examine their breasts and private parts to see what reproductive stage they are in, look closely at their wing membranes to see if they are sick, take their picture with a flashing camera, then let them go.  It only takes a few minutes. 

I think I have finally figured out how to make youtube videos that I can post without giving my self an aneurysm as I strain my tiny computer brain muscles.   Check out the above video that I made last night of a big brown bat being released after he was caught in my nets. 

This video shows just how feisty some of the bats are when they are captured.  I'm holding him very gently, so he's not squawking in pain, he's fighting for his life.  Turn the sound up so you can hear the noises he makes.  Poor fella, he's not giving up though.  Some of the bats, like the red bat in the video below, just calmly bear the intrusion. 


I hope that the bats who experienced the alien abduction aren't shunned by their buddies.  Hmmm... maybe those human abduction stories shouldn't be ignored!  And who is a better candidate for some alien probes than a lone bat survey team out in the woods in the middle of the night...

Monday, June 17, 2013

Cabbage Worm Art

I was distracted from the task at hand by the intricate worm holes in cabbage leaves as mom and I visited her garden to see if we could harvest some garlic for a soup we were making. The garlic was ready, and because mom planted the cloves last fall by putting them on top of the soil and covering them with straw it was easy to harvest.  She just pushed the straw aside to reveal a perfect garlic bulb. 
The cabbages are being eaten by these little striped caterpillars.  

It is tragic that these lovely cabbages are getting marred, but it was fun to arrange worm art compositions with my camera phone.  
I have way too many pictures of holey leaves, but I couldn't stop myself!  Why don't they just start at one side and eat it all from there?  Because it wouldn't look as cool, that's why.  
In the wee hours of the morning, when we were all still enjoying some tasty beverages on the front porch, it was suggested that we examine the cabbages for snails.  Two in the morning may be a strange time for most people to garden, but to a group of second shifters and nocturnal bat catchers it seemed only slightly odd.    
What was amazing to me is that all of us had lights in our pockets at the moment the foray was suggested.  Each of us, dad, mom, Jamie, Leigh, and I, activated our cell phone illuminators.   We live in an amazing age.  Right this moment I'm sitting in the woods attempting to catch bats and writing about cabbage on my phone.  Please forgive my spelling and formatting, the bugs that are landing on my phone and face because of the glow is distracting.

Dad pointed out that if you put your light below the cabbage leaves you could see the slug's shadow from the top and find them.  Well, this made even more amazing worm art photos!

The soup turned out perfect, with garlic, asparagus, parsely, and sage right from the garden. 

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